Wallace Stroby, . . St. Martin's Minotaur, $22.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-312-30095-1

Payback and revenge drive Stroby's taut, violent second outing for former New Jersey State Trooper Harry Rane (after 2003's The Barbed-Wire Kiss ). With his wife, Cristina, away in Seattle to think things through after a rough marital patch, Harry seizes the chance to keep a protective eye on Nikki Ennis, who used to work as a dancer at the Heartbreak Lounge in a seedy section of Asbury Park. Nikki's vicious, amoral ex-husband, Johnny Harrow, who's just finished serving a seven-year stretch in a Florida prison for attempted murder, wants to find his young son, whom Nikki gave up as an infant, and heads for the Heartbreak, where he first met his ex-wife. Johnny also has a few scores to settle with some nasty people in Jersey, his home state. The thug's ruthless campaign threatens everyone in his line of sight, and not even Harry escapes his wrath. In the end, Stroby's suspenseful tale of bleak lives in danger offers a few glimmers of hope for those with damaged hearts. Agent, Robin Rue at Writers House. (Feb. 10)